Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Ceramic studio

I haven't posted anything for a long time, but not because I haven't done anything new. It just didn't happen. Catching up now, I will start with a project that I did in early autumn, when it was still possible to move around, and I did it in my miniature club. In this club, that meets once a week, everyone makes what they want; single objects or a larger project or anything. We have a guru who has an answer to every inquiry and a solution to every problem. We also support and encourage each other.

When we got together after summer I decided to make a room box, and I wanted to make a ceramic studio to give my daughter for her birthday - she is a ceramic artist. There are some rather specific elements necessary in a ceramic studio, and it was a challenge I so much enjoy. I browsed through many pictures of studios on the web, also recalling the time, long ago, when I attended pottery classes. A pottery wheel was the obvious start, and that's what I made first. 

I wasn't sure how to organise the room box, but the guru happened to have a wine box she didn't want - wine boxes are otherwise hard to come by these days. I painted the walls and ceiling white and made tile floor from egg cartons. A studio would of course have shelves, and rummaging through supplies I found a lampshade, exactly the same I once used, inspired by the very same guru, in my first dollhouse. I trimmed it to measure and inserted into the box. 

The doll is for size only. Since I was making everything from scratch, scale was essential. A table has to be higher than the wheel. 

Of course I needed a kiln, and there are two types of potter's kilns: front-opening and top-opening. My daugher has the latter, but for a room box a front-opening kiln is much more grateful because you can display pots when the front is open. I tried all kinds of boxes available in the workshop, but then remembered a tin box that I many years ago used as a refrigerator. I am glad I didn't throw it away because it was perfect for my purpose here. I painted it on the inside and put in wire shelves. Obviously a kiln cannot stand on the floor so I made a base. I also added some tiny watch parts for knobs.  

The guru gave me a small sink left over from some other project, and I added taps, splash board and sewage. I was now in the third or fourth week of the project and started finding small items to serve as various jars and containers. I also made two ceiling lamps.  

But of course ceiling lamps would not work for a potter: you need strong, focused light right over the wheel. I looked around in the workshop. Making a proper workbench lamp would be a challenge. I like challenges. It took several attempts and many dirty words, but I did it. I also wanted an iconic Swedish wall shelf, and I had actually made one some months before, without any project in mind, but it went well scale-wise. 

This picture is from a later stage of the project when shelves were filled, but before that there were some other things to make. Paint and glaze jars, for instance. 

I needed lots of finished and unfinished pots. I needed tools. And I needed chaos. Even the tidiest potter cannot keep the studio tidy. 

Here is the completed project. I always say that a miniature project is never completed, as you can always add and improve, but in this case it had to be completed by my daughter's birthday, and I wouldn't be able to change anything once it was gone. 

So let's have a closer look at different angles. 

On the table there are various tools, jars - one is spilling paint, which is fun to make - kitchen towel, coffee mug, a half-eaten sandwich; the table is smeared with dried clay. On the stool, you see scales, which is a Barbie item painted in more appropriate colours.

The corner with the lamp and the shelf. Paint jars are mostly radio or computer parts. The ceramic items are beads, candle holders, buttons. The lump of clay on the wheel is... clay. 

My pride - the kiln. I used the same kinds of beads and other vessels and painted them with chalk paint to resemble unglazed ceramics. And the fact that the kiln can be opened to display its content is a bonus. 

There was an issue of getting the room box to my daughter during the pandemic, but we managed it, and I think she was glad. She did point out, as I had anticipated, that she would never allow cats in the studio, but I told her it was poetic licence. 

As with all giveaway projects, I felt separation anxiety for a while. But I was and still am pleased with it because I managed to make it just as I had imagined. 

This was two months ago, and I have done lots of other stuff since then so come back soon. 

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Tudor restoration

After a long break in house restoration I felt I should turn my attention to my other houses since Womble Hall is more or less presentable. The Tudor house hasn't suffered as much as Womble Hall, and the worst damage was totally my own fault. After I had unpacked the house, I left it unattended overnight, and it was attacked by wild beasts who managed to pull it down from the table onto the floor, during which the roof went off.

I feel strong affection for the Tudor house, because it was found in a dump, and I restored it and added a lot of details both inside and outside. I did extensive research on various period-correct features, and although I would never say that a project is finished, the Tudor house was as complete as it can be. It was even featured in a dollhouse magazine.

Just as with Womble Hall, this is an excellent occasion to revise and improve some things. It has been eight years since I did the main work on the Tudor, and I haven't done much on it once it was sort of done. There are many things I would do differently and probably better today, and there are things that simply need repair.

The first thing was to mend the roof, and fortunately all shingles were somewhere inside the house, and I had spares from when I first made the roof. So it was first a matter of gluing loose shingles back and then fixing the roof on the house.

Before going on with interior details I decided to do something I had been planning all along but never got round to. The house clearly used to have a front that could be closed and opened. Right now it is more important than ever because it needs to be protected from wild beasts, but hopefully also keep off at least some dust. 

I cut the front from a large piece of board which I otherwise use for bookbinding, another hobby I have. It has an irregular shape because the three stories of the house go over each other, as they did in Tudor times to diminish land tax. The board is very thick, and cutting it is always a pain. 

I could not mix an exact match of the yellow paint, but I don't think it matters. Then I made timber frames both on the outside and the inside. 

I used cardboard boxes for "timber" - I am a recycler. 

There were hinges left from when the house had a front, but because my front was made of board rather than wood I could not use the metal hinges. Instead, I made hinges from pieces of leather. The hook that kept the front in place was still there, and I had an eyelet. 

I must admit that I had not noticed the hook before. 

Now I can close and open the house which is both convenient and neat. 

Next, I had to mend the interior. 

At some point, I installed display lights in this house. They weren't working, and I decided to remove them altogether. I wasn't quite happy with them even when they did work, and nowadays there are better technologies in case I want display lights again. 

I started with solar - the upper floor with the great bed.

It was in a better shape than I had feared, but the bed itself was broken. It was, however, easy to mend, and I also added side curtains. 

The solar was thus finished. I didn't add or change anything for the time being.


With the great hall and the kitchen I wanted a few more radical changes.

In the past weeks I have been making food from polymer clay. I have already shown my bakery and my greengrocer stall. I borrowed some bread and some veggies to go into the Tudor house. Tudors ate lots of bread, in all social groups. They were not too keen on vegetables, and at that time what was available was mostly cabbage and onions. 

But they were all the more fond of meats. I had meats in my old Tudor kitchen, but as I develop better skills in clay sculpting, I started replacing old meats, mostly made in air-drying clay, with more elaborate ones in fimo. I have used several books for instructions.

I started with ham, steak and leg of mutton, then made a variety of sausages.


These hang in front of the inglenook in the kitchen. I have removed objects from the middle and front for better view. 

Yes, there is a pig roasting in the fire!

I made pies and cheeses. 


I know the Tudors made cheddar. Not sure about stilton, but it's visually gratifying so it will have to be inauthentic.

Then I had a great test of confidence. The mandatory piece on a Tudor fest table is a boar head. If you told me even a month ago that I would be bold enough to make a boar head from polymer clay I'd say, no way. But I considered it for a while and thought: What do I have to lose? If I fail, I will just knead the clay into a ball and make something else. Again, I followed instructions from a book, telling myself that the artist is after all a human being, working with the same materials and tools as I, so why wouldn't I be able to make it? Judge for yourself. 


With these new additions, the great hall has become much more impressive. 

The chicken is the only thing I haven't made myself, but after boar head I am sure I can make anything. 

The full view of great hall: 


What I suddenly became aware of, which I believe is the result of my recent evolution as a miniature-maker, is that the furniture looks improbably new. Which of course it is. When I made it, eight years ago, I had no idea how to distress furniture and also would never dare to. So this is something I will need to do next: age and distress the table and benches. Now I have the necessary tools and skills. This is the exciting thing about going back to an old project: you see how much better you have become.

In the kitchen I knew I had to make some sacrifices. I have lots of lovely antique pewter stuff and lots of things I made to look like pewter, some even before I had the Tudor house. For many years I just kept squeezing everything into the house, and in the end you cannot see anything properly. So I deselected almost half of the objects that used to be in the kitchen, on various criteria: size, authenticity and also how they fit in with everything else.

I re-assembled the trestle table and arranged the remaining items on and around it. 

I will stop here for a while. A project is never finished, but at least I won't be ashamed to show this house to a visitor. 

Monday, 7 September 2020

Fruit and vegetable market stall, finished

 I will not keep you in suspense about my market stall display. Here is the final project: 

I must admit that I didn't spend a lot of time making the display, but I am still quite happy with it. 

I used the market stall I had before, with al the stuff I have now discarded, but of course it was too small for the amount of produce to display. 

Therefore I made a simple diorama from cardboard, then made two long benches to put crates on. I wasn't very careful with crates either. I probably won't keep this display and will use veggies and fruit in other projects, for instance in my Victorian house and even in my Tudor house, although Tudors weren't too keen on vegetables. 

In fact, I have already used a lot of these minis for a different project. And now it's time to move on. 

If you are curious about what I am doing, here are some pictures. 




These are stitch markers, and they are for sale. If you are interested, let me know. 

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Fruit and vegetable market stall, part 2

I could of course make more vegetables for my market stall, like Brussels sprouts (ugh!), avocado, various lettuces and cabbages, but somehow it would be repetitive, and anyway I wanted to leave room for fruit. I had made fruit before as well, mostly apples and oranges because they are easy to make from air-drying clay. I also dried berries that look like fruit, and I made a pineapple from a pine cone. 



But now I wanted to use my newly acquired sculpting skills to make more realistic fruit. And a larger variety of fruit. 

Unless you make sliced fruit (which I will do at some point) I think fruit is easier than vegetables because they do not need as much work on texture. They are sort of smooth - although not oranges of course. 

I found two techniques on the web for making oranges, and for these I pricked them with a toothpick, then rolled a crumpled ball of aluminium foil over them. The other method that I haven't tested was to roll them in salt before baking, then dip them in water to dissolve the salt. You can also use sandpaper. Oranges did not need additional painting because they have even colouring. 
I then made apples, and I decided on green apples for colour variation. As with vegetables (and oranges) you cannot just use commercial clay. With oranges, I added white and yellow, and with apples I mixed and mixed until I was happy with the colour. Apples have  a deeper indent on top, and I used a silicon tool to form it, but a toothpick would have worked too. Then I shaded one side of each apple with several layers of chalk pastels. 

I will probably make several other apple sorts - there are so many, green, yellow and red. 

From apples, it was a natural step to pears: more or less the same technique, just shaping each ball into a pear shape. Again, mixing several colours of clay, then shading with pastels. 

Pears, too, come in different colours and even shapes so there is room for further creations. But I moved on to peaches. They are a bit like bell peppers, with prominent indents along both sides: 

I made apples, pears and peaches without consulting any tutorials, just looking at my full-size fruit bowl. But when it came to bananas I felt I needed instructions, which I found in a book. The opening sentence of banana instructions was a revelation: bananas are not round, but square. I didn't have bananas in my fruit bowl, but I looked on the web, and while before reading that book I would have sworn that bananas were round, I could clearly see that they weren't. Which is just another example of how much you learn from miniature-making. The true shape of bananas is essential knowledge. 

So for bananas you make a square rather than round "sausage" (the book I consulted called it prism) before cutting it into suitable lengths and then sculpting them at ends and bending. Partially following the instructions, I painted the ends of my bananas with light green pastel before baking, but then painted the stalk and the opposite end with brown acrylic and used the same acrylic for lines and spots along the edges. (There is, by the way, a reason why I made individual fruit rather than a bunch).
I am really pleased with my bananas. I had never expected myself to be capable of making bananas so I am getting much more confident about my skills.

Finally, I made water melons. Most melon instructions are for sliced melons where you need very complicated colour transition with five shades of pink. I made whole melons which still involved a lot of work to produce realistic stripes. You put tiny strings of a different colour onto your melon, distress it with a toothpick, then roll and shape until you have a smooth surface. I can see in the picture that it isn't smooth enough, but there isn't much I can do about it now. 

I also made some melon halves and slices, which needs, as I said, elaborated colour transition and a lot of texture work, as well as inserting seeds. 
I am not quite happy with these, but I have tried and will need to practice more. But for the time being, I varnished all my fruit, although peaches should probably not be so shiny - let's say they are nectarines.

There are many more fruits I could make: lemons, plums, grapes, figs - even before I move on to something more exotic like papaya, mango or passion fruit. However, once again, I only have limited space in my market stall. I am sure you are already puzzled how I am going to display my produce. You may have noticed all the various wooden crates I have made from cheese boxes and coffee stirrers. They all need space. So come back soon to see how I have solved the issue. 
To be continued.

Monday, 24 August 2020

Fruit and vegetable market stall

Inspired by my miniature baking, I decided to try making other food stuff from polymer clay and, perhaps not surprisingly, chose vegetables. 

I made vegetables a long time ago, when I was a beginner, and I made them from air-drying clay because I thought it was easier. Now I know it isn't, and the results are far better. Air-drying clay dries quickly, it often crumbles after a while, you have to paint it. Having now tried both I clearly prefer fimo.

Back then, I even made a fruit stand that I filled with veggies and fruit, that I was quite happy with at that time. I also made fruit and vegetables for my large Victorian dollhouse and for my retro house (the Tudors didn't eat vegetables). Here are some of my old groceries. 



Unlike bread and cakes, I didn't attend any classes on making vegetables. (I was enrolled in one that was cancelled because of the current situation). There are zillions of tutorials on YouTube, some more helpful than others, and in the end you just need to decide what suits you best or merge the various techniques according to your tools and skills. I also have several books - yes, physical, printed books - on making fruit and vegetables, not all of them from clay. 

I started with something that felt easy enough and followed one of the tutorials closely, to understand the principles. After you have done that, you can start improving and improvising, but it is important, I believe, to master some basics. A good thing with fimo, unlike air-drying clay, is that it doesn't dry, and you can start all over again as many times as you need. 

I didn't use any sophisticated tools, practically only toothpicks and a blade. I do have a special rolling pin, but you can also use a bottle or a glue tube or anything round and smooth.  


So to begin with, I made tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage and carrots. First rule, that I had already adopted when making bread, is that no commercial clay is quite the colour you can use directly - you need to mix and mix and not compromise. For instance, I should have added more yellow to carrots. You also have to work a lot on texture to make veggies look realistic, and every now and then I had to check my fridge to see, for instance, how exactly bell pepper stalk sat. I had never really considered that every vegetable has a different shape of stalk, or how the indents go in tomatoes and bell peppers, and so on. The cabbage was the most time-consuming, since you had to make 12 separate leaves in three different shades of green, shape them, add texture and carefully layer upon each other. It took me three attempts to feel satisfied. After baking, I applied fimo varnish to peppers, tomatoes and carrots. 

Just to give you a sense of how much better your minis are when you take the time to develop your skills, I took some "Then and Now" pictures.



The bottom row is cucumbers, and the new ones I made from a tutorial I wasn't very happy with, so I found another one, and you can see the difference.



For cucumbers and quite a few other veggies I made later, you need to blend two colours of clay to create a smooth, gradual transition. Again, I had never considered that there are no sharp colour borders in nature. Blending is done by folding and rolling out clay until you drop dead. It can be done in a pasta machine if you have one. I don't so I did it all manually. No shortcuts. It took me a long time to understand and then practice, but it makes such a difference. Just look at these leeks.

or radish, or rhubarb.

You cannot get this effect by painting. 

So I went on, from more simple and straightforward veggies to more complicated, learning as I went.


Cauliflowers were quite demanding, as were broccoli - they had to be assembled one by one; but the patissons were just a joy to make, as were pumpkins. I only used toothpicks for shaping.

For pumpkins and patissons, I used chalk pastels before baking, just as with breads, layering from the palest to the darkest. After baking, I used varnish.

Aubergines and butternut squash were easy. 

But for courgettes, that are the same shape, it was necessary first to make a cane of two colours to create stripes. 


Artichokes and asparagus were very demanding. First, you had to pre-bake the stalks, then add the teeny tiny leaves one by one. Then paint with pastels before final baking.

Beans and peas were relatively easy, but because they have to be very small if they are in scale with the other veggies, it was exacting work. I used a magnifying glass.


Beetroot, fennel and onions needed colour transition again: 

And garlic, in addition to colour transition, also needed to be arranged in a braid. 

For corn on cob, I found a tutorial with a very smart technique using mesh for texture. 


Here are some more Then and Now pictures: 

My self-esteem has soared. I now know that I can make anything from polymer clay, it is just a matter of practice - like with everything else. I am not in a hurry and can spend hours on just one vegetable until I am fully satisfied.

Now you may wonder how I am going to display all these vegetables in my little market stall. Come back soon, and I will show you. 

To be continued.